The second lecture given on April 1, 2009 by Werner Callebaut of the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Austria; given to the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, UC Berkeley.
The Modern Synthesis has been hailed as a historical event that appeared to fulfill a project at least as deep as the Enlightenment project (or even deeper still) of unifying the branches of knowledge (Betty Smocovitis). What, in comparison, could or should an Extended Synthesis in an allegedly postmodern age look like? I introduce the discussion by calling attention to the rhetoric of unification. In then look back at the Modern Synthesis what it was (not), which disagreements it generated ? to document its remarkable resilience. I go on considering the fate of the positivist "unity of science" program, which, somewhat paradoxically, resulted in the current "anti-reductionist consensus" in the philosophy of biology. I also probe the form unification by synthesis can take on in a post-positivist framework, consider the recent turn in favor of disunity, and advocate a balanced, dialectical view. By way of conclusion, I reconsider the issue of the autonomy of biology in light of the trend toward the physicalization of biological disciplines such as systems biology.